Columbia Star

Columbia zoning

Guest Column

While Richland County is considering new zoning proposals, it is a good time to look at possible patterns of housing development. Clearly, people want to move to our area, and we need more housing. But large residential-only developments sprawling across the entire county are not the only way to go.

Taking their cue from the pioneering work of urbanist Jane Jacobs and architect Christopher Alexander, the new urbanist movement has made a case for why building scattered, dense villages is better than having sparser developments. (Columbia has its own new urbanist development, Harborside, which has demonstrated the attractiveness of this model:

What are some of the benefits of having denser villages scattered through more rural countryside? For one thing, it can increase the sense of community because residents will meet each other at their general store or pocket park, they have a chance to get to know each other, and consequently gain the ability to act together as a community. At a time when many feel American democracy is seriously troubled, building community is more important than ever.

Furthermore, it creates a more attractive landscape. It is doubtful that anyone would argue that sprawling developments of identical buildings scattered across a landscape from which all vegetation has been bulldozed clean is an attractive environment. If people live in a place that is more beautiful, they will be more attached to it and take better care of it.

The village pattern of development will also combat high gas prices. Although small dense villages will not obviate the need for all longer trips, many of residents’ needs can be met by walking, biking, or with a short drive. As a further benefit, fewer car trips will, of course, also mean less air pollution.

Another benefit is to increase supply chain resiliency. The recent pandemic has shown us how fragile long distance supply chains can be. The outbreak of war in Europe has reinforced that point. Given this reality, it makes no sense to drive agriculture out of the vicinity of the city of Columbia. When the next emergency hits, having sources of food nearby will be extremely valuable. (

Furthermore, “go local“ is a large national movement. Having farms in the area can provide fresh local produce — for residents AND local restaurants.

Dense villages surrounded by open countryside also serve to provide rural recreation near residences. Apple picking, horseback riding, and corn mazes don’t have to mean a long car ride, if we keep a good mix of rural land and dense settlements. And they create the possibility for agro-tourism.

In short, there are many reasons to prefer village and countryside development to the more typical pattern we see around us today. And there is really only one reason for that pattern. In the short run, it is faster and cheaper to put up housing units in that fashion. But it is shortsighted to look only at the immediate cost, and ignore the multiple benefits of the alternative.

Gene Callahan is the author of “Economics for Real People,” “Oakeshott on Rome and America,” and many scholarly and popular articles. He has taught economics, mathematics, and computer science at various universities. He grows organic vegetables in Richland County.

One response to “Columbia zoning”

  1. COL Gene Retske says:

    This assumes that everyone wants to live in a dense, planned and highly regulated community. Undoubtedly, some people do, but many of us prefer a more open, less regulated place to live where people are free to pursue whatever lifestyle they prefer.

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